Why we need ‘crazy’ ideas for new city parks



Sea Line Park, one of the shortlisted entries in the competition to design a new park for the Melbourne of 2050.
Future Park Design Ideas Competition, Author provided

Wendy Walls, University of Melbourne

Two seemingly unrelated but important things happened in Melbourne last week. One was a memorial service for David Yencken AO; the other was the exhibition opening of the Future Park Design Ideas Competition. The connection between the two is that both gave us radical ideas for Melbourne’s open space.

David Yencken was a visionary man who had a profound impact on Victoria and Melbourne. He was responsible, among many things, for the transformation of Southbank and co-founding Merchant Builders. But one of his wildest ideas was the 1985 Greening of Swanston Street, when vehicle traffic was closed and a weekend street party was held right in the middle of Melbourne.




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As the secretary (chief executive) of the Ministry for Planning and Environment, Yencken had been charged with changing perceptions of the city by rethinking its public spaces. At a time before pop-up parks and guerrilla gardening, his radical idea demonstrated what was possible for the inner city and sowed the seed of the idea of closing Swanston Street to traffic.

The project was not without controversy – it was costly and came in for political criticism as a stunt. But looking back to a time when inner Melbourne was underutilised and dominated by traffic, we can see how that radical idea sparked the imagination about what was possible for the city centre.

The Greening of Swanston Street in 1985.
Victorian Ministry of Planning



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Future Park fires imaginations and debate

This is just what the Future Park competition needs to achieve. The open competition held by the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects has attracted global interest, with 123 entries from 20 countries.

The brief was simple but provocative. Designers were to find space within 10 kilometres of the city centre and design a future park that responds to the challenges of Melbourne today. The design responses from the 31 shortlisted entries ranged from manufactured lagoons to urban wildlife corridors and street transformation parks that Yencken would be proud of.

Melbourne from Past to Last, a vision of a city street park.
Future Park Design Ideas Competition, Author provided

The first wave of media coverage on the competition inspired a range of public comments about Melbourne’s open space. For example, from the online comments in The Age:

Royal Park is a massive area of underutilised space. Driving down Elliott Av it’s just an open wasteland. Grassland and scattered gum trees does not make a welcoming “park”.

How about bulldozing the eyesore known as Federation Square and putting a park in its place?

These designs forget to include the things that make it a Melbourne park, graffiti, vandalism, weeds and the homeless.

Architects and landscapers rarely, if ever, have a grasp on what will work for people … they are too busy trying to be creative, and not busy enough trying to make people happy.

What the public comments show us is that there is no single or obvious solution to our parks and public spaces. Some people like it busy, some people like the quiet. Some want European trees and others desire native plantings. It’s complicated, and each of these opinions make valid points.

Just like Yencken’s Greening of Swanston, there will always be debate about what makes good public space. And that is exactly why we need more radical ideas – some might call them “crazy” – for our cities.

We know the future of our cities will be complicated. Like it or not, there will be more people, a changing climate and increasing pressure on infrastructure and services.




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Wicked problems call for radical thinking

These messy issues are often described as wicked problems. Popular in public policy and management, the term is used to explain problems with debatable cause and effect. Critically, the lack of agreement about wicked problems produces conflicting goals towards resolution.

Obviously, we need science, governance and planning, but finding solutions to wicked problems will also require creativity and collaboration. We need debate and we need ideas that can expand our imagination about what our cities can be. This is why it is so important that the competition entries for the Future Park explore new and outrageous possibilities.

Ideas throughout the shortlisted entries include plans for a new NBN: the National Biodiversity Network, which creates ecological corridors across the country. Others propose transforming schools into parkland; parks designed for bees; designs that return darkness to our urban landscapes; and sculpting new islands as rising sea levels engulf our coastline.

Multi-deck parks: as cities grow and space becomes ever more precious, urban parks replace car parks.
Future Park Design Ideas Competition, Author provided

As design solutions, these ideas reflect the challenges of our world today. While many of these schemes are technically, socially or economically unfeasible, they remind us of the power of thinking outside of the box. Importantly, the competition format puts all of these ideas together in one place for us to think about and discuss.

In Australia, we have a limited culture of “open design competitions” for either built projects or speculative solutions. But design competitions provide opportunities for new voices and discovering unexpected solutions within these wild ideas.

Radical ideas are important and so is having the freedom to voice them. Especially as a way of expanding the discussions we need to have about the challenging future.




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The Future Park competition winners will be announced on Friday, October 11, at the 2019 International Festival of Landscape Architecture in Melbourne. The Future Park exhibition is at Dulux Gallery, Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne, from October 4 to November 1.The Conversation

Wendy Walls, Lecturer in Landscape Architecture, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Regional cities beware – fast rail might lead to disadvantaged dormitories, not booming economies



Many commuters already travel from regional cities to work in capital cities like Melbourne so what impacts will fast rail have?
Alpha/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Todd Denham, RMIT University and Jago Dodson, RMIT University

Governments are looking to fast rail services to regional cities to relieve population pressures in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The federal government is funding nine business cases for such schemes. But what economic effect might these fast links have on the regional cities?

The current fast rail schemes seem oriented at relieving population pressures in the major cities rather than a productive regional economic purpose. The minister for population, cities and urban infrastructure recently stated:

… the National Faster Rail Agency begins operating from today [July 1]. The new Agency will oversee the government’s 20-year fast rail agenda, which will connect satellite regional cities to our big capitals. This will allow people to reside in regional centres with its [sic] cheaper housing and regional lifestyle but still access easily and daily the major employment centres.




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The argument seems built on a pitch to city workers priced out of metropolitan housing markets. It treats regional towns as remote dormitories for metropolitan workers rather than as regional cities that serve as service hubs and employment centres. But will subsidising metropolitan workers to live in cheaper regional towns have a positive economic effect on those towns?

An unequal relationship

Concern is growing among international observers that fast rail connections between two cities benefit the larger of the pair. Professor Michael Storper observed:

One of the biggest mistakes we’ve made was being naïve about connectivity – give infrastructure and it spreads. Well, often it concentrates. The high-speed train network in France, guess what it did. It advantaged Paris.

While Paris is seen as benefiting the most from the national fast rail TGV service, the regional cities of Lyon and Lille have strengthened their economic positions. The Lyon and Lille fast rail stations form the hub of their respective regional transport networks and have attracted new commercial activity. They also sit at intersections of major European fast rail networks.

It’s a pattern that cannot be easily achieved for Australia’s regional cities due to our widely dispersed settlements. So what does this mean for our regional cities?

Improving transport infrastructure doesn’t just improve regional business access to metropolitan markets. It decrease the costs of trade in both directions. And large cities are typically more productive economically. This is because they offer more specialised goods and services and can leverage the agglomeration effects of shared high-quality labour markets and infrastructure, plus a concentration of skills and knowledge.




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Reduced travel times can mean regional businesses become less efficient than metropolitan competitors that can offer a wider range of specialist goods and services. This may lead to regional business closures, employment losses and wage decline. Unless a regional city is able to develop a specialised set of high-skill, high-wage industries that complement or outcompete the metropolis it risks being economically disadvantaged by faster rail.

New regional demand arising from commuter population growth might counter the loss of higher-order regional jobs due to improved transport links. But that will largely be in lower-value retail and personal service sectors. The result will still be a net economic gain for the metropolis.




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An influx of commuters earning metropolitan wages might also inflate regional housing markets. This would disadvantage lower-paid regional workers. The beneficiaries of this scenario are likely to be local rentiers, such as landholders and developers who can profit from land-price inflation.

This interest group will likely vocally promote regional fast rail. But sustainable economic prosperity for regional cities requires more than population-driven land speculation.




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The example of Geelong

The most advanced of the current Australian proposals is the Geelong-Melbourne route. It has received federal and state funding for planning with an estimated total cost of at least A$10 billion. But planners need to ask how this spending will provide a net economic benefit, and how the benefits will be distributed.

Growth in commuter population and the services this attracts may be seem like a resolution to metropolitan population problems, but could further concentrate higher-paid jobs in Melbourne. Faster commutes mean Melbourne-based firms will have a greater pick of Geelong-based workers, thus consolidating metropolitan competitive advantage. Fast rail thus risks placing Geelong at a competitive disadvantage, with jobs and workers being exported to Melbourne.

Meanwhile the pressure of housing another 145,000 residents in the next 20 years already falls on Geelong, a city of 280,000 people. The strain on infrastructure and services is proportionately greater than would be the case in Melbourne, which has nearly 5 million residents.




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What can policymakers do about this?

To resolve this conundrum, thought must be given to what specialised high-value jobs will be attracted to regional cities to accompany fast rail investments, so these cities remain competitive and productive, regionally, nationally and internationally. This might include policies such as relocating public agencies, regional targeting of university-based research and development spending, boosting services such as schools and hospitals, and providing incentives for innovative private companies to relocate to regional towns.

Policymakers should also consider positioning regional cities as rail network hubs in their own right. An example would be connecting Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo by rail, along with better linkages to national and international airports.

We don’t yet know for sure what the effects of fast rail on regional cities will be. But the impact of this infrastructure needs to be assessed very carefully lest it turns Australia’s regional cities into dependent population dormitories rather than regional dynamos, at vast public expense.The Conversation

Todd Denham, PhD Candidate, School of Global, Urban & Social Studies, RMIT University and Jago Dodson, Professor of Urban Policy and Director, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Floating cities: the future or a washed-up idea?



Oceanix, a proposed floating city, has captured the attention of the UN.
OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

Brydon T. Wang, Queensland University of Technology

Humans have a long history of living on water. Our water homes span the fishing villages in Southeast Asia, Peru and Bolivia to modern floating homes in Vancouver and Amsterdam. As our cities grapple with overcrowding and undesirable living situations, the ocean remains a potential frontier for sophisticated water-based communities.

The United Nations has expressed support for further research into floating cities in response to rising sea levels and to house climate refugees. A speculative proposal, Oceanix City, was unveiled in April at the first Round Table on Sustainable Floating Cities at UN headquarters in New York.

Life on a floating city, Oceanix.
OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

The former tourism minister of French Polynesia, Marc Collins Chen, and architecture studio BIG advanced the proposal. Chen is involved with the Seasteading Institute, which is seeking to develop autonomous city-states floating in the shallow waters of “host nations”.

While this latest proposal has gained UN attention, it is an old idea we have repeatedly returned to over the past 70 years with little success. In fact, the Oceanix City proposal has not reached the same level of technical sophistication as previous models.




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A brief history of floating cities

The architecture community was fascinated with marine utopias between the 1950s and ’70s. The technological optimism of this period led architects to consider whether we could build settlements in inhospitable places like the polar regions, the deserts and on the sea.

Plan for Tokyo Bay by Kenzo Tange, 1960.
Wikimedia

The Japanese Metabolists put forward incredible projects such as Kenzo Tange’s 1960 Tokyo Bay Plan and the marine city proposals of Kikutake and Kurokawa.

In the West, Buckminster Fuller proposed Triton City, which would be connected to the mainland via bridges. Archigram, a neofuturistic architectural group, proposed underwater sea farms.

These proposals were directed at solving the impending urban crises of overpopulation and pressures on land-based resources. Many were even sophisticated enough to be patented.

The arc of this global architectural discussion was captured during the first UN Habitat conference (“Habitat I”) in Vancouver in 1976. In many ways, the UN has returned to the Vancouver Declaration from Habitat I to “[adopt] bold, meaningful and effective human settlement policies and spatial planning strategies” and to treat “human settlements as an instrument and object of development”.

We are seeing a pivoting that began in 2008 with Vincent Callebaut’s “Lilypad” – a “floating ecopolis for ecological refugees”.

Where floating cities were once dismissed as too far-fetched, the concept has been repackaged and is re-emerging into public consciousness. This time in a more politically viable state – as a means of addressing the climate emergency.




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The technology and types of floating city structures

No floating settlements have ever been created on the high seas. Current offshore engineering is concerned with how cities can locate infrastructure, such as airports, nuclear power stations, bridges, oil storage facilities and stadiums, in shallow coastal environments rather than in deep international waters.

Two main types of very large floating structures (VLFS) technology can be used to carry the weight of a floating settlement.

The first, pontoon structures, are flat slabs suitable for floating in sheltered waters close to shore.

The second, semi-submersible structures (such as oil rigs), comprise platforms that are elevated on columns off the water surface. These can be located in deep waters. Potentially, oil rigs could be repurposed for such floating cities in international waters.

Transforming oil rigs into liveable structures. Ku Yee Kee and Hor Sue-Wern’s entry in the 2011 eVolo Skyscraper Competition.
Ku Yee Kee & Hor Sue-Wern/ eVolo, CC BY

Oceanix City is based on the pontoon structure. This would restrict it to shallower waters with breakwaters to limit the impacts of waves. This sort of structure could serve as an extension of a coastal city, as a life raft for island communities inundated by rising waters, or to provide mobile essential services to residents of flood-prone slums.




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Sovereign floating cities and micronations

While some early marine utopian proposals were responses to emerging urban issues, many proposals conceptualised “seaborne leisure colonies”. These communities would be independent city-states allowing inhabitants to circumvent tax laws or restrictions on medical research in their own countries.

This sort of floating city was conceived of as a micronation with sovereignty and ability to provide citizenship to its occupants. The example was set by the Principality of Sealand, off the coast of Britain.

The Principality of Sealand is a micronation situated on Roughs Tower, a platform off the coast of Britain.
Ryan Lackey/Flickr, CC BY

None of these proposals have succeeded. Even modern attempts such as the Freedom Ship and the Seasteading Institute’s plans for an autonomous floating settlement under French Polynesian jurisdiction have stalled. A recent attempt at creating a sovereign micronation (seastead) off Thailand led to its proponents becoming fugitives, potentially facing the death penalty.




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A viable project?

Technology is not a barrier to floating cities in international waters. Advances in technology enable us to create structures for habitation in deep sea waters. These schemes have never really taken off because of political and commercial barriers.

While this time round proponents are packaging floating cities in a more politically viable concept as a life raft for climate refugees, commercial barriers remain. Apart from the UN, few organisation have the economic and political influence or reason to deliver a satellite floating city in the ocean.

In my view, the future of ocean cities is in technology campuses and in tourism. Given the significant risk of a community in extreme isolation in international waters, the solution to bringing people together in mid-ocean requires us to think about what connects us: technology, work and play. In these three elements we see, perhaps, the two lowest-hanging fruits (or the most buoyant of possibilities) for ocean cities.

The first is in floating tech campuses where large technology companies set up floating data centres and campuses in international waters. Situated outside national jurisdictions, these campuses could circumvent increasingly onerous privacy regimes or offer innovative technological services without having to negotiate regulatory barriers.

The second prospect is a return to the seaborne leisure colonies of the past. Companies like Disney could expand on their cruise offerings to build floating theme parks. These resorts could be sited in international waters or hosted by coastal cities.

Given our fascination with living on water, even if Oceanix City does not suceed, it won’t be long before we see another floating city proposal. And if we get the mix of social, political and commercial drivers right, we might just find ourselves living on one.The Conversation

The Disney Cruise Line could potentially develop seaborne leisure colonies in future.
Diego Villuendas Pellicero/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Brydon T. Wang, Research Assistant and PhD Candidate, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Indonesia isn’t the only country planning new cities. Why not Australia?



File 20190501 136784 1vrb4zb.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Indonesia plans to relocate its capital from the sprawling city of Jakarta – and it isn’t the only country with plans to build whole new cities.
AsiaTravel/Shutterstock

Wendy Steele, RMIT University

The announcement that President Joko Widodo’s government will move Indonesia’s capital to another location, due to the severity of human-induced degradation in Jakarta, highlights a key tension for cities today. In the face of increasingly unsustainable urban environments, do we retrofit existing cities, or relocate and build new cities to achieve greater sustainability?

The answer is both. But each has its challenges.




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Creating new cities

The goal of turning cities from sustainability problems to solutions is driving a suite of “future city” innovations. These include the planning and development of whole new cities.

An increasing number of countries are planning to build cities from scratch using technological innovation to achieve more sustainable urban development. Forest City in Malaysia, Belmont smart city in the United States and the Sino-Oman Industrial City are just some of the examples.

Forest City is Malaysia’s biggest development project.

The urban ambition includes creating carless and walkable cities, green cities able to produce oxygen through eco-skyscrapers, high-speed internet embedded in the urban fabric, the capacity to convert waste into energy, and reclaiming land to create new strategic trade opportunities.

However, striking the right balance between innovative ideas and democratic expectations, including the public right to the city, remains a challenge.




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The Minnesota Experimental City offers a cautionary tale. The aim was to solve urban problems by creating a new city. It would use the latest technology including nuclear energy, automated cars and a domed roof enclosure.

Despite significant government and financial backing, including its own state agency, the Minnesota project failed due to a lack of public understanding and local support for a top-down futuristic project.

Who gets left behind?

In 1960, Brazil moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to the futuristic city of Brasilia. While the city was designed to accommodate both rich and poor, it quickly became unaffordable for the average family. Half a century on, it was reported:

The poor have been shunted out to satellite cities, which range from proper well-built cities to something more like a shanty town.

The Indonesian capital Jakarta is part of a larger mega-city.
Rainer Lesniewski/Shutterstock

In Indonesia, more than 30 million people – a fifth of the nation’s urban residents and more than a tenth of the 269 million population – live in Greater Jakarta. The capital city Jakarta is just one part of a larger mega-city agglomeration, the world’s second-largest after Greater Tokyo. This vast connected urban meta-region is known as Jabodetabek, from the initials of the cities within it: Jakarta (with a population of 10 million), Bogor (1 million), Depok (2.1 million), Tangerang (2 million), South Tangerang (1.5 million) and Bekasi (2.7 million).

A key reason for moving the capital is that Jakarta is prone to serious flooding and is rapidly sinking. Jakarta also suffers overpopulation, severe traffic gridlock, slums and a lack of critical urban infrastructure such as drainage and sanitation.




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Relocating the capital away from the crowded main island of Java offers the opportunity to better plan the political and administrative centre using the latest urban design features and technology.

Two key questions arise. If environmental degradation and overpopulation are the key issues, what will become of the largely remaining population of Greater Jakarta? At a national scale, how will this relocation help overcome the socio-economic and spatial disparities that exist in Indonesia?

Egypt, for example, is building a new capital city to overcome severe urban congestion and overcrowding in Greater Cairo. But there is no guarantee the new capital will resolve these issues if the emphasis is solely on technological innovation, without adequate attention to urban equity and fairness.

More of the same in Australia

The Australian population is projected to grow to 36 million in the next 30 years. This is focusing political, policy and public attention on what this means for the future of the nation’s cities.

Despite all the advances that have occurred in technology, the arts, architecture, design and the sciences, there is surprisingly little innovation or public discussion about what might be possible for 21st-century Australian settlements beyond the capital cities.

Future Australian city planning and development focuses largely on enlarging and intensifying the footprints of existing major cities. The current urban policy trajectory is in-fill development and expansion of the existing state capital mega-city regions, where two-thirds of the population live. But what is lost through this approach?

In Australia only two ambitious “new city” plans have been put forward in the last 50 years: the Multifunction Polis (MFP) and the CLARA Plan.

In the late 1980s the MFP was envisaged as a high-tech city of the future with nuclear power, modern communication and Asian investment. It failed to gain the necessary political, investment and public support and was never built.

The current CLARA Plan proposes building up to eight new regional smart cities connected by a high-speed rail system linking Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra. Each of these cities is designed to be compact, environmentally sustainable and just a quick train trip away from the capital cities.

CLARA has outlined a “value capture” business model based on private city land development, not “government coffer” funding. How these new cities propose to function within the constitutional framework of Australia is as yet unclear and untested.

The privately funded CLARA plan is to build up to eight compact, sustainable, smart cities connected via high-speed rail.



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A bipartisan challenge

Are we thinking too narrowly when we talk about future Australian cities?

The “future city” prompts us to rethink and re-imagine the complex nature and make-up of our urban settlements, and the role of critical infrastructure and planning within them.




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The future of Australian cities will require creativity, vision (even courage) to respond effectively to the challenges and opportunities of sustainable development.

This will not be the remit of any one political party, but a bipartisan national urban settlement agenda that affects and involves all Australians.The Conversation

Wendy Steele, Associate Professor, Centre of Urban Research and Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

People and issues outside our big cities are diverse, but these priorities stand out


Stewart Lockie, James Cook University

This is part of a major series called Advancing Australia, in which leading academics examine key issues facing Australia in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election and beyond. Read the other pieces in the series here.


Rural and regional Australia is a big place – too big to be contained in one rural policy or represented by a single political party.

Several features of contemporary rural and regional Australia stand out, though, as deserving of serious policy attention.




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The Indigenous estate

Indigenous peoples are among rural and regional Australia’s largest landholders. Native title rights are recognised on more than 37% of the Australian landmass. Exclusive possession native title applies to around 13%. Both these numbers will grow.

The cultural and social significance of the Indigenous estate is immense. So too is its economic significance. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enterprises are active in agriculture, mining, infrastructure development, land and water management, and protected area management.

Governments have taken some positive steps to assist Indigenous enterprise. Changing procurement policy to encourage local suppliers is an excellent example. This must be seen in the context, however, of the missteps of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and failure to engage with the Uluru Statement from the Heart.




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Respecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aspirations for sovereignty and “closing the gap” on health, safety, education and employment are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, finance, insurance and business models that are relevant to the collective and enduring nature of native title rights will go a long way towards realising the economic potential of the Indigenous estate.

Native Title determinations as at December 31 2018. Native Title exists in green areas (darker green denotes exclusive title) and does not exist in brown areas (lighter brown denotes title extinguished).
National Native Title Tribunal, CC BY



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New labour markets

Agriculture, mining and other resources industries contribute mightily to Australia’s GDP. Yet their contribution to employment is comparatively small.

In 2016, agriculture, forestry and fishing accounted for 215,601 jobs in regional Australia. Mining provided 102,639 jobs. By contrast, health care and social assistance provided 445,087 jobs, retail 341,190, construction 292,279, education and training 291,902 and accommodation and food services 253,501.

Health care and social assistance and education and training contributed more new regional jobs over the last decade than any other industry.

This is not about commodity price cycles and their short-term impact on labour demand. It is about the relentless substitution of labour with technology as business owners strive to lift productivity and lower costs. Advances in automation and telecommunications will accelerate this trend.

The policy imperative is not to ignore resource industries or the workers who depend on them, but to face up to structural change in the labour market.

It is not unreasonable for regions hit by job losses following mine or plant closures to look for new projects to fill the void. But it is important to recognise that fewer jobs will be on offer in the resources industries. And these jobs will require higher levels of skills and training.

Maintaining high employment across non-metropolitan regions will depend, ultimately, on continued growth in other industries.




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Climate action

In the land of drought and flooding rain, climate variability is a given.

Managing for that variability is something we need to do better, even before taking climate change into account. The South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission into water use shows that political commitment to cross-border cooperation and the maintenance of environmental flows is fragile.

What evidence we do have on rural and regional Australians’ beliefs about climate change suggests uncertainty and lack of trust in government are more prevalent than outright denial. A precautionary approach to climate is favoured over business as usual.

Why a precautionary approach? Because failure to act on climate presents a number of risks. These include:

  • reduced market access for regions and industry sectors not seen to be reducing emissions
  • failure to develop cost-effective and industry-specific technologies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • lost opportunities to develop markets in carbon sequestration
  • escalating economic and social impacts on rural and regional communities as climate variability increases.

Importantly, only the last of these risks is actually contingent on climate change.

Transition planning

The sustainability challenges facing rural and regional Australia are not solely environmental.

In the 21st century, industries require stable, high-speed telecommunications infrastructure. That’s no less true of agriculture and mining than it is of tech start-ups and e-retailers. Unfortunately, the digital divide between urban and rural Australia is a significant constraint on innovation.




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The industries of the 21st century also require stable and responsive institutional and governance infrastructure.

The rural politics we see reported in the media looks every bit as polarised and resistant to change as anywhere. Yet Australia’s best rural policies have always been the result of collaborative approaches to planning and innovation.

Landcare and regional natural resource management programs stand out for the positive relationships they have built across the agriculture, conservation, industry and Indigenous sectors.

While federal and state infrastructure funding is critical for the regions, so too is support for integrated and collaborative planning. Place-based approaches are not a panacea but it is always in specific places, and specific communities, that business, services, natural resource management, energy, transport and telecommunications infrastructure, and so on, come together.

Electoral diversity

Social conservatism, support for traditional rural industries and scepticism about climate change are all highly visible in rural politics today.

I have outlined some of the risks arising from climate scepticism, but contemporary social conservatism carries political risks too.

Most obvious is the alienation of voters who do not share these views. They include:

  • farmers who want meaningful action on climate
  • lifestyle migrants with no historical loyalty to the National Party
  • young people with more socially progressive attitudes.



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It is worth remembering that in the plebiscite on marriage equality most rural and regional electorates took the progressive option and voted yes.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voters warrant extra attention. Indigenous voters have swung elections in the Northern Territory with their preference for candidates who respect local leadership and priorities over traditional party allegiances and ideologies. Candidates for any seat with a large Indigenous population ignore these voters at their peril. As the Australia Electoral Commission works to lift the Indigenous vote, this influence will grow.

In sum, the issues that matter to rural and regional Australians are far more diverse than those discussed here. Many will disagree with how I have represented one or other issue. That, really, is the point.The Conversation

Stewart Lockie, Director, The Cairns Institute, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Indians promised benefits of 100 smart cities, but the poor are sidelined again



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Residents of slums like Kamla Nehru Nagar, a kilometre away from Patna Junction, have yet to share in the promised benefits of smart cities.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

Sujeet Kumar, Jawaharlal Nehru University

India’s urban population is growing. More than 50% of the country’s population is forecast to be living in cities by 2030. This is a major challenge for government because the country’s cities lack the infrastructure (affordable housing, roads) and basic services (sanitation, water, health care) for existing inhabitants, let alone the influx of people over the next decade.

Globally, one in eight people live in slums where they face issues of durable housing, access to safe drinking water and toilets, and insecure tenure. In India, one in every six city residents lives in a slum.




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Many Indian children are growing up in very disadvantaged circumstances. These two live in Mahmudi Chak slum next to Rajendra Nagar Railway Junction in Patna.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

However, estimates of slum populations differ widely in many Indian cities due to differences in the counting criteria. For example, in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, it’s estimated more than 50% of the population live in slums, but the 2011 Indian Census put the figures at 41.3% and 14.6% respectively.

Launching the national Smart Cities Mission in 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “… if anything has the potential to mitigate poverty it is our cities”. He said the mission, which has a target of 100 smart cities, aims to ensure access to basic services for the people. This includes houses for the urban poor.

The program aims to fulfil the aspirations and needs of the citizens through comprehensive development of institutional, physical, social and economic infrastructure. This comprehensive development would also ensure increased public participation, Modi said.

Villagers migrated to the Danapur Block slum after the Ganga river flooded.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

Smart city plan has a dark side

In one of the 100 cities selected for the Smart City Mission, Patna (Bihar), I witnessed the flip side of the smart city. Patna, the state capital of Bihar, has a rich history, but 63% of its population lives in slums. And 93% of them are from the historically oppressed “scheduled castes” and “other backward castes” (based on data collected in 42 slums).

Demolished homes at Meena Bazar.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

The city administration often demolishes slums without following due process of law in order to seize the land in the name of beautification and development of Patna.

In slums like Meena Bazar (near the famous Nalanda Medical College Hospital) and Amu Kuda Basti (near Patna Airport) people have been living there for generations in houses often partially funded by government housing projects. These have been bulldozed.

Riot police are on hand when slum dwellers’ homes are demolished at Amu Kuda Basti.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

The city administration usually makes ad-hoc loudspeaker announcements before bulldozing these settlements. A massive police presence and riot vehicles are on hand in case residents protest the demolitions. They use derogatory language and forcefully enter houses and thrash male members, say women in Amu Kuda Basti.

The government could have given them more time or relocated them elsewhere in the city, rather than just bulldozing their houses, which they had built with hard-earned money, the slum dwellers said.

Residents of slums like Amu Kuda Basti say houses they built with their own hard-earned money are being demolished with little notice.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

There is apparently reason to smash these homes. There always is. The usual arguments for demolition include: beautification of the city, construction of a government building or enterprise, extension of the airport, crime locations, governance, illegality, encroachment etc. The state says demolitions of such slums are necessary for the development of the city.




Read more:
Smart or dumb? The real impact of India’s proposal to build 100 smart cities


In 2011, the state proposed a slum policy to relocate slum dwellers who had lived in the city for generations to the outskirts in a plan to develop Patna and make it a smart city, says Kishori Das, an advocate for the rights of slum dwellers for years. Faced with widespread protests, the state deferred the policy, but it is silently applying it on the ground, he said.

Who speaks for the marginalised poor?

These two leaders from Meena Bazar are among 84 community representatives, elected and non-elected, interviewed by the author.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

Local and mainstream media are not reporting these demolitions and forced evictions, especially when it happens in non-metro cities like Patna. Civil society and advocacy NGOs also take little notice of these frequent demolitions, probably due to threats to life and, if not, then to co-option by the state. The roles of the ruling party and opposition are also dubious.

Bihar has been ruled by leaders who attracted votes by campaigning on issues of poverty, caste and social justice for the past three decades. In the early 1990s, the prominent leader Lalu Prasad Yadav mobilised the poor and the oppressed caste groups under the umbrella of “Vikas nahin, samman chahiye” (we want dignity, not development). The present chief minister, Nitish Kumar, also known as Sushaasan Babu (good governance man), adopted the slogan “Nyay ke saath vikas” (development with justice).

However, the frequent injustices suffered by the urban poor negate the political commitment. These actions are also in conflict with the motto of the Indian Constitution, which frames justice as a balancing wheel between the haves and have-nots.

Promises of social justice ring hollow for residents of bulldozed communities like Amu Kuda Basti.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

These challenges are not limited to one city. In the name of smart and developed cities, the government is not only taking over urban land where millions of the poor have lived for decades but is also acquiring fertile land and violating the constitutional rights of farmers, tribes and other indigenous groups in various cities.

These reports of struggle and forced evictions contradict the statements by Modi when he said smart cities development would strictly follow large-scale public participation in preparing these plans.

Such demolitions reveal a dark side to making Indian cities smart and cast serious doubt on claimed government commitment to the urban poor. These actions hardly live up to the idea of the rights of the poor. It became more challenging when the head of the biggest democracy in the world denounces those who speak up for the poor, oppressed and voiceless as “urban Naxals”.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. For India, this means the urban poor need help both from political parties and civil society so that their voice finds expression and their demands and concerns are heard and considered in public policy. The Conversation

Children sleep out in the open in a slum area in Harding Park, Patna.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

Sujeet Kumar, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s dangerous fantasy: diverting population growth to the regions


John Daley, Grattan Institute and Jonathan Nolan, Grattan Institute

This week we’re exploring the state of nine different policy areas across Australia’s states, as detailed in Grattan Institute’s State Orange Book 2018. Read the other articles in the series here.


A dangerous fantasy is taking hold in Australia: that government policy can divert population growth from our bulging capital cities to our needy regions. It’s a fantasy because a century of Australian history shows it won’t work. And it’s dangerous because it gives governments an excuse to avoid the hard decisions on planning and transport needed to make housing more affordable and cities more liveable.

Since Federation, state and federal governments have tried to lure people, trade and business away from the capital cities. These efforts have mostly been expensive policy failures.

Despite substantial government spending on regional development aimed at promoting decentralisation, Grattan Institute’s State Orange Book 2018 shows the trend to city-centred growth has accelerated in the past decade. Less than a third of us now live outside the capital cities.


Grattan Institute State Orange Book 2018

With the exception of Western Australian and Queensland mining regions, capital city economies over ten years have grown faster than regional economies. That’s mainly because their populations have grown faster.

Incomes per capita, on the other hand, have generally grown at about the same pace. Employment participation for women is similar too, although 25-to-64-year-old men in regions are 7% less likely to work than men in cities.


Grattan Institute State Orange Book 2018

Why do most people choose to live in cities?

These are global trends. Large cities around the world are typically growing much faster than less densely populated areas. Even in Japan, where the national population is declining, Tokyo continues to grow.

The economic advantages of cities over regions appear to be increasing as people spend more of their incomes on services rather than goods. Services businesses often prefer to be close to other services businesses, typically in large cities.

Regional growth programs in Australia have a poor record of trying to push economic water uphill against these trends.

Take for example the New South Wales home buyers’ grant of $7,000 for people who move from cities to regions. Some 10,000 people were expected to take up the offer in the first year. In fact, only 4,800 grants were made over three years. Many of those probably went to people who would have moved anyway – perhaps to retire to “the bush”.

The key problem is that people will only move to regions if there are extra jobs. And policies to encourage more jobs in regional areas also have a poor track record. The money on offer from government is rarely enough to outweigh the economic advantages for a business of locating in a city instead.

Most of the time we don’t even know whether regional development programs work because they are so badly administered. Auditors-general in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and WA have all found substantial regional development money being spent with no business case, or poor documentation, or without reference to application guidelines, and with no evaluation of whether the programs achieved the promised outcomes.


Grattan Institute State Orange Book 2018

The overwhelming impression is that governments don’t really want programs evaluated because they know all too well what the answers will be.

What if regional population policies did work?

In the unlikely event that government policy actually succeeded in encouraging many more people and employers to move to regional areas, it would probably slow growth in incomes. Cities are more productive, and this is reflected in higher wages.

Cities are important for innovation and economic growth. Cities offer more opportunities to share ideas, which both attracts skilled people and increases their skills once they arrive. Despite the rise of the internet and reduced telecommunication costs, innovation seems to rely on regular face-to-face contact between people in different firms, which therefore tend to aggregate in large cities.

So pushing extra people to regional areas runs the risk of reducing Australia’s productivity growth and per capita incomes.

So what about regional ‘dormitory’ suburbs?

Another strategy, much discussed in Victoria as it heads into a state election campaign, is to encourage the growth of regional towns as dormitory suburbs for people working in cities. Obviously this only works for regional towns that are relatively close to capital cities, with good transport links. Hence the big-spending promises to upgrade regional rail services.

But it is unclear why regional dormitories should be considered better than building suburbs on the city fringe. These fringe suburbs often provide access to more jobs in the other suburbs nearby.

In any case, the transport infrastructure needed to ferry people from homes in regional areas to jobs in the city is not cheap. Far better to relax planning laws to allow higher-density living where people want to live and can be close to a wide range of jobs – that is, in the established middle and inner suburbs of the capital cities.

The danger of distorted spending priorities

The fantasy that governments can divert population growth from cities to regions is also dangerous because it distorts spending priorities in regions. Government services probably improve regional lives more than government spending that is supposed to promote business growth. Government spending on regional arts and sports facilities probably has a much bigger impact per dollar than an extra kilometre of dual-lane highway.

Government spending per person on education and health is in fact already higher in regions than in cities, even if service levels are often lower because they cost more to deliver. But if governments are going to spend more on regional services, the money may need to be spent differently.


Grattan Institute State Orange Book 2018

Grattan Institute analysis shows that poorer health and educational outcomes in some regional areas are primarily the result of socio-economic status and other risk factors – not remoteness. In health, for example, the substantial gap in mortality between regions and cities appears to result not from more distant hospitals but from people in regions tending to exercise less and have poorer diets.

Economic theory and policy experience, in Australia and other advanced economies, expose the “repopulate the regions” push as wishing thinking. As this series of articles based on Grattan Institute’s State Orange Book 2018 will show, there are better ways for governments to promote a growing Australia.The Conversation

John Daley, Chief Executive Officer, Grattan Institute and Jonathan Nolan, Associate, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Infrastructure splurge ignores smarter ways to keep growing cities moving


Marion Terrill, Grattan Institute

This week we’re exploring the state of nine different policy areas across Australia’s states, as detailed in Grattan Institute’s State Orange Book 2018. Read the other articles in the series here.


It’s already started. We may be only entering the formal election campaign in Victoria tonight, but massive transport announcements are in full swing from the state Labor government, the Coalition opposition and the Greens. And with an election due next March in New South Wales, we can be sure the major parties in that state won’t be far behind.

Expanding the capacity of the transport network always gets far more attention than other ways of managing a fast-growing population. In reality, though, governments have a far bigger menu of options to keep Australia’s capital cities moving – and they should use them all.




Read more:
We hardly ever trust big transport announcements – here’s how politicians get it right


Big spending promises all round

The swag of promises in Victoria to date has been big on rail. The Andrews government would, if returned, build a 90km suburban rail loop connecting all major suburban lines. Work is to start in 2022 at an announced cost of A$50 billion.

A Matthew Guy-led Coalition government would, if elected, build high-speed-rail to regional cities. The first trains would come into operation within four years, at an announced cost of A$15-19 billion.

And the Greens? They would upgrade suburban rail signalling and add 100 extra high-capacity trains, at a cost of A$8.5 billion.




Read more:
Missing evidence base for big calls on infrastructure costs us all


If talkback radio is any guide, these plans are popular. People love the idea of a magnificent new rail system that perhaps they’ll use or, more likely, that they hope all those people who currently clog up the roads will use instead. After all, Melbourne is a very car-dependent city. And, with three-quarters of all the jobs dispersed all over the city, that’s unlikely to change much any time soon.

People also love big new infrastructure because it feels as though it comes for free. While a politician may have to pick just one from a menu of large projects, voters don’t have to confront this kind of choice.

Rather, we face the difference between a new station or service near our home, or no such new station or service. If you are the beneficiary of a new rail service, you may support the candidate promising it. By contrast, the losers are dispersed, and it’s hard to get too agitated about services we never had.

Look more closely at what is happening

But new transport infrastructure is far from the only way to cope with population growth. Even though Melbourne has had extremely high population growth, averaging 2.3% a year over the five years to 2016, commuting distances and times have remained remarkably stable.

The median commute distance for Melburnians barely increased, from 8.6km to 8.7km, over the five years to the most recent Census in 2016. The median commute time has remained at 30 minutes each way since 2007.

Notes: Working-age respondents to the Hilda Survey report commuting times for a typical week. These are converted here to times for an individual trip. BITRE (2016) finds that the travel times HILDA respondents report closely match other measures of travel times, further supported by Grattan analysis of Transport for Victoria (2018).
Source: Grattan analysis of HILDA (2016), Author provided



Read more:
Our fast-growing cities and their people are proving to be remarkably adaptable


These stable commute times and distances have coincided with a period of only limited new infrastructure construction. Victoria’s additions – Regional Rail Link, Peninsula Link and the M80 Ring Road – are modest compared to Queensland and NSW’s. The road stock in Melbourne increased by 4.3% over the five years to 2015, significantly less than the population increase of 11.9%.

The A$1.3 billion CityLink Tullamarine widening project finished recently, and the A$8.3 billion level crossing removal project is more than half-completed, but these projects are too new to explain the remarkable stability of commutes over the period of booming population.

Despite only modest new infrastructure, people have adapted. Some have changed job or worksite, and working from home is on the rise. Some people moved house, or even left the city. And some changed their method of travel, leaving the car at home and catching the train, tram or bus to work. Other people simply accepted a longer commute, at least for a time, and particularly if they were earning more.

Of course, not everyone is better off when the population grows rapidly. Some people elect not to take a new job that’s too far from home; some pay higher rent, or cannot afford a place they once could have. But the lesson from Melbourne is that people are not hapless victims of population growth, depending for their well-being on governments building the next freeway or rail extension.

So what are the best ways to help cities cope?

The Grattan Institute’s State Orange Book 2018 recommends that governments work with, not against, the adaptations that people make. Here are three ways state governments can help:

  1. They should stop making it so hard to move house, by replacing stamp duty with a broad-based land tax.
  2. They should stop locking new residents out of their preferred locations, by combining a relaxation of zoning restrictions on residential density with clear assignment of on-street parking rights.
  3. The incoming governments of Victoria and NSW should introduce time-of-day road congestion charges in the most congested parts of Melbourne and Sydney (offset by a cut to vehicle registration fees), with the funds earmarked for public transport improvements.

Let’s see what the vying parties can do.The Conversation

Marion Terrill, Transport Program Director, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

NBN faces irrelevance in cities as competitors build faster, cheaper alternatives


Allan Asher, Australian National University

Malcolm Turnbull is now connected to the National Broadband Network (NBN) at his Point Piper home on a 100 megabits per second (Mbps) plan, it was revealed in Senate Estimates yesterday. But only because his department intervened to avoid delays affecting other customers.

And while the Prime Minister might be happy with his NBN connection, that’s not the case for the 2.5 million customers waiting on a connection through their pay TV or cable service who have been left in limbo.

Lauded in the 2009 Commonwealth Budget as the single largest nation building infrastructure project in Australian history, the NBN is at risk of becoming an expensive white elephant in our cities. Years of political interference, poor technology decisions and a monopoly business attitude have damaged the brand.

Rather than meeting its objective of connecting 90% of homes and workplaces with broadband speeds of up to 100 Mbps, the NBN is looking more like a giant sponge. It soaks up public infrastructure dollars and returns high prices, long delays, unacceptably slow data speeds and service standards that are now the subject of an ACCC investigation.

As a result, a growing number of competitors are bypassing the NBN by undercutting prices and beating performance standards.




Read more:
The ACCC investigation into the NBN will be useful. But it’s too little, too late


Adelaide bypasses the NBN

The latest challenge to the NBN came after South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill denounced the “very poor NBN outcome” and last week announced A$35 million in funding for an Adelaide fibre network alternative if he is reelected in March 2018.

The plan was warmly welcomed by Mighty Kingdom, an app and games developer who told the ABC, “I don’t have what I need to get me to the rest of the world.”

This follows news announced last year that Adelaide City Council is working with TPG to deliver an NBN-alternative broadband service to local businesses. The service promises fibre internet up to 100 times faster than the NBN, at lower prices, and with no installation costs for city businesses or organisations.

Lord Mayor Martin Haese said:

This technology will be a game changer for the city of Adelaide. It will be a boom for local businesses and other organisations, but will also attract business from interstate and across the globe.




Read more:
The NBN: how a national infrastructure dream fell short


NBN alternatives for Melbourne homes and businesses

Meanwhile two aggressive startups in the Melbourne market are hoping to take a serious bite from NBN’s lunch.

Lightening Broadband is connecting homes and businesses using microwave links capable of delivering both 100 Mbps download and upload speeds. That’s better than the comparable NBN Tier 100, which offers 90 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload speeds.

The company is constructing microwave transmitters on tall buildings, connected to the telco’s core network using microwave links. Customers within a two-kilometre radius share a microwave transmitter, requiring a dish on their roof.

Another telco start-up, DGtek is offering its customers a full fibre alternative service.

Upon its launch in 2016, DGtek’s founder David Klizhov said:

“Ideally the NBN would have worked if it was fibre to the home, but it’s taken quite a lot of time and we thought that we could have a go at the Australian market using technology that’s been implemented already overseas.”

DGtek uses Gigabit Passive Optical Networks (GPON) and runs it directly into tightly packed homes with the dense population of inner Melbourne. As a sweetener, DGtek offers free internet service to government organisations – such as schools and hospitals – in areas they service.

The threat from 5G and other new technologies

New entrant competition is not the only threat to NBN Co. Optus and Telstra are both launching 5G services in 2019. This represents a quantum leap in wireless technology that could win away millions of current and potential NBN customers.

While Vodafone CEO Inaki Berroeta has said that 5G is unlikely to replace the NBN in Australian homes, Optus Managing Director of Networks Dennis Wong recently told BIT Magazine:

Everyone has heard of concepts like self-driving cars, smart homes, AI and virtual reality, however their full potential will require a fast and reliable network to deliver. Seeing 5G data speeds through our trial that are up to 15 times faster than current technologies allows us to show the potential of this transformative technology to support a new eco-system of connected devices in the home, the office, the paddock and in the wider community.




Read more:
5G will be a convenient but expensive alternative to the NBN


5G is not the only technological game changer facing the NBN. iiNet in Canberra has launched its Very-high-bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL2) as its own superfast network.

According to iiNet, it is made up of fibre and copper and provides a faster connection than ADSL and most NBN plans. The network is independent from Telstra and differs to NBN in that iiNet’s VDSL2 network uses its own copper lines.

Levelling the field for smaller players

The huge capital requirements of rolling out telecoms infrastructure has always acted to deter more competition in the Australian market. But following a regulatory decision of the ACCC in 2017, smaller entrants can now enjoy cost-based access to some of the largest networks – including Telstra, TPG and Opticom – allowing them to better compete both with the big telcos, and with the NBN.

By providing access to superfast broadband access service (SBAS) and the local bitstream access service (LBAS), new entrants will be able to sell NBN-like fixed line superfast broadband wholesale.

So where to for the NBN?

Yesterday the government released a working paper forecasting that demand for bandwidth will double for households with high internet usage over the next decade. The report also suggests that the NBN is equipped to meet those needs.

The ConversationHowever, cost, technology and customer service problems continue to threaten the commercial success of the NBN. Without a radical rethink, it is doomed to fail its initial mission.

Allan Asher, Visitor, Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet) & Chair of Foundation for Effective Markets and Governance, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

This is how regional rail can help ease our big cities’ commuter crush



File 20170807 19106 1rhefi7
Rail investments have brought Ballarat, Geelong and other regional centres closer in travel time to Melbourne than many outer suburbs.
Tony & Wayne/flickr, CC BY-NC

Michael Buxton, RMIT University

In Sydney and Melbourne, the squeeze is on. Population is booming; house prices are still rising; roads and trains are congested. Australian governments generally have ignored the benefits of relating metropolitan and regional planning.

However, some state governments are now investigating more integrated sectoral and spatial planning strategies, initially through shifting public sector jobs to regional centres.

In particular, improved regional rail connections do work. Already rail investments have brought Ballarat, Geelong and other regional centres closer in travel time to Melbourne than many outer suburbs, and this trend will continue.


Further reading: Commuters help regions tap into city-driven growth


Sydney has similar opportunities with regional rail connections, but has not yet exercised them. Rail services to and from Gosford, Newcastle and Wollongong have improved little over recent decades.

Rail bypasses clogged arteries

For decades, policymakers’ preferred solution to congestion has been adding and widening freeways. But promises of faster travel times and freer movement have been illusory. New roads and freeway lanes induce more traffic and will provide short-lived solutions in our biggest cities.


Further reading: Traffic congestion: is there a miracle cure? (Hint: it’s not roads)


These cities are the main drivers of Australia’s national economy, attracting advanced business service professionals and knowledge providers.

Access to high-value jobs, transport arteries that function well, and better-managed population growth will become critically important to urban economies as these cities move towards populations of 8 million people.

In Sydney and Melbourne, critics are claiming that major new road projects such as WestConnex and the Western Distributor will increase central city traffic congestion, particularly for work-related journeys.


Further reading: Modelling for major road projects is at odds with driver behaviour


Victoria proves regional rail works

Contrast that with the success of regional rail development. Victoria has invested several billion dollars in a series of projects. These have raised maximum regional train speeds to provincial cities to 160kph, increased reliability, provided new and much faster trains and transformed frequency.

Victoria’s investment in regional rail has quadrupled train services and almost halved travel time between Ballarat and Melbourne.
Hugh Llewelyn/flickr, CC BY-SA

The 119km peak-hour trip from Ballarat to Melbourne before these investments took two hours, with four trains a day on offer. Today 22 daily trains operate in each direction between Melbourne and Ballarat. Boarding the 4.33pm from Southern Cross delivers passengers to Ballarat 65 minutes later.

From Geelong, the transformation has been even greater. The recently completed Regional Rail Link runs 55 daily trains each way. The project was the first to be approved by Infrastructure Australia, backed by A$3.8 billion in state and Commonwealth funding.

Patronage boom calls for more work

These upgrades, however, have become victims of their own success. Some lines have recorded a 300% increase in patronage. Similar increases are projected for the next decade.

Remarkably, within two years of opening, patronage growth has already reached capacity on the inner part of the Regional Rail Link (which segregates metropolitan from country trains for travel to and from central Melbourne). There is little or no capacity for extra trains to be run in peak times.

Trains are becoming ever more crowded. Long-distance commuters have valued their ability to work, read or sleep on these trains, especially during their homeward journeys. They must now compete for seats with others from rapidly expanding western suburbs, which are yet to gain their own suburban train services.

A short-term fix would create longer trains of eight carriages instead of six. A medium-term fix would electrify and provide separate services to the part of the Geelong line that serves the new dormitory suburbs.

These changes need to be complemented by more frequent and better co-ordinated feeder bus services to stations. In addition, easily accessed large commuter carparks need to be built on vacant land on the Melbourne side of the major regional centres.

In the longer term, the answer lies in providing more multiple tracks to fully segregate suburban and regional trains in suburban areas. Providing robust double-line railways in each corridor will prevent the cascade effect that occurs when trains delay each other on single lines.

The completion of level-crossing removals will also allow higher operating speeds and safer operations. Trains will be able to move progressively to maximum speeds of 200kph where feasible rather than 160kph.

Regional cities must avoid past mistakes

These rail investments will further promote population growth in regional cities. Already, regionally developed services, more affordable housing stock and less frantic lifestyles are acting as attractors.

It is essential to integrate the planning of major regional transport projects with spatial planning to avoid the undesirable results of fragmented policy.

Some regional centres are repeating the worst mistakes of metropolitan low-density urban sprawl by expanding on greenfield sites far from town centres. Modelling of Victorian regional towns has shown that they contain in-fill opportunities to at least double existing populations and provide a range of affordable housing options.

To maintain liveability for expected high population growth, heavy rail investment is vital. Carefully targeted regional rail investment can shrink distance, provide access to more jobs and better lifestyles, and contribute to wider housing choices.

This investment is a critical requirement for continued prosperity in Australia’s largest urban centres.


This article was co-authored by Bill Russell of the Rail Futures Institute, Melbourne.

The ConversationFind out more about what Victoria can do to overcome the commuter crush at Railway Remedies: Cutting the Crush on Geelong Trains, hosted by the RMIT Centre for Urban Research (CUR) and Deakin University at the Percy Baxter Theatre, Deakin Geelong campus, on Wednesday, August 9.

Michael Buxton, Professor of Environment and Planning, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.